National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Electric brain stimulation may help treat bulimia nervosa

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Electric brain stimulation may help treat bulimia nervosa

As the United States observes the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week from February 26 to March 4, efforts are being redirected to help people speak about their eating disorders and get help. Eating disorders are serious illnesses and can affect anyone irrespective of age, gender, caste or socioeconomic status. It’s time to talk about it.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia, binge eating disorder and bulimia cause extreme disturbances in a person’s pattern and frequency of eating. For example, people with anorexia often restrict the amount of food intake and are typically underweight. Individuals with binge eating disorder, on the other hand, tend to eat large amounts of food without the ability to control the intake. Moreover, bulimia is characterized by periods of excessive food indulgence followed by purgation through vomiting, dieting or using medicines and laxatives. These symptoms are mostly caused by factors such as negative body image and low self-esteem. If the binge-purge cycle continues over longer periods of time, the behavior turns into a disorder.

So far, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been the most preferred treatment for eating disorders. However, there is also a need to explore the use of neuroscience-based techniques in treating eating disorders.

Non-invasive brain stimulation may be effective alternative treatment

A recent study done by King’s College London and published in the journal PLOS ONE on January 25, 2017, has explored the use of mild electrical currents to stimulate a specific area of the brain in reducing symptoms of bulimia. Two male and 37 female participants were given 20-minute sessions of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) targeted at the area of the brain involved in reward processing and self-control. The participants also underwent a placebo session of 30 seconds, with a gap of at least 48 hours between both the sessions.

Questionnaires were used before and after each session to assess participants’ bulimia symptoms, including binge eating, concerns regarding weight gain and body shape, constraints on eating food and overall mood related to bulimic behavior. The researchers found that the tDCS sessions resulted in a significant reduction in bulimia symptoms; however, no such reduction in symptoms was observed after the placebo session.

Participants were also asked to take part in another exercise whereby a choice was given to them to receive a smaller sum of money immediately or a larger sum after three months. It was found that following the tDCS session, participants were more disposed towards choosing a higher sum of money available after three months, which was not the case after the placebo session. The researchers were able to infer that participants displayed better judgment by waiting for a larger reward in the future than opting for a smaller sum of money immediately.

Establishing tDCS as less expensive and flexible form of treatment

The authors mention that this is a preliminary study and the effects of the brain stimulation may provide only temporary relief from symptoms of bulimia. However, the association between the two is not in doubt. If multiple such studies are undertaken involving a larger group of participants, it is likely that a stronger association will be indicated.

Ulrike Schmidt, professor of Eating Disorders and Head of Section of Eating Disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London and a senior author of the study, states that tDCS is far less expensive and more convenient compared to other brain stimulation techniques. In future, it may be possible for people with eating disorders to administer the treatment to themselves sitting in the comfort of their homes. According to her, treatment through brain stimulation can supplement other treatment options such as CBT or can be an independent, alternative treatment option.

Seeking timely treatment is the best way to recover

Eating disorders cause several medical complications. It is advisable to look for early warning signs and take corrective action immediately. Future studies may come up with diverse ways to treat such disorders but it is always helpful to seek treatment in time and regain control of life.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder or any other mental health problem, get in touch with Sovereign Health. We provide residential, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient levels of care for people suffering from an eating disorder. Individualized care plans are devised in accordance with a patient’s needs.

Chat online with our treatment advisors to get information about our mental health centers in California. You may also call our 24/7 helpline number at (866) 954-0529 and speak to our experts to get details about our eating disorders program in our state-of-the-art inpatient mental health treatment centers in California.

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